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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

"A Mighty Fortress in Our God" - Pastor John Roekle

October 28, 2018 [Reformation] Psalm 46 J.D.Roekle

Dear Friends in Christ,

“A Mighty Fortress in Our God.” Is there any more recognizable Lutheran hymn around? Our German ancestors knew it as “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott.” Since Martin Luther wrote it sometime around 1529, it has been a staple in the Lutheran church. The fight song, if you will, of the Reformation. And what a powerful hymn it is. Powerful because it expresses Scripture truths. Based on the words of Psalm 46. Listen to these powerful words:

God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

8 Come and see the works of the Lord,

the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;

he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,

he burns the shields with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

They were in a pickle. Caught between a rock and hard place. In front of them was the sea and they had no means of crossing it. No boats, etc. Behind them was the heavily armed enemy coming in droves and bearing down on them. Unlike the enemy, they weren’t armed. What were they to do? How was this going to turn out? It didn’t look good! This was the predicament of the nation of Israel after making their escape from slavery in Egypt.

And how did it turn out? The people cried out to the Lord and complained to Moses. Moses, in turn, told the people not to be afraid and to stand firm. The Egyptians would not have their way with them anymore. Then the Lord granted a miraculous ending to this chapter of history. As Moses stretched out his hands toward the Red Sea, the Lord separated the waters so that dry land appeared and the Israelite nation could walk safely across.

This was indeed a miraculous crossing. Conservatively speaking, the nation of Israel numbered at least 2 million people at this time. Can you imagine moving 2 million people on foot across a path created as the seas parted? What you also need to know is that God’s assuring presence was with them during this whole process. There was a pillar of cloud that had led them to this point and now went behind the Israelite nation, moving between them and the Israelites, serving as a buffer so that the enemy wasn’t able to get them.

But there’s another detail to this account that may not get as much attention. Moses writes in Exodus 14:19 “Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them.” The angel of God was the Son of God. This was Jesus before he came in the flesh. This was their assurance that God had intentions of saving them for eternity, and he was here to give them that assurance as he protected them from the enemy.

With this assurance and with their deliverance from the pursuing Egyptians, the Israelites could joyfully proclaim: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God.

Martin Luther faced many difficult and trying times. Perhaps none were more trying than when he was summoned to appear at an official meeting in the city of Worms, Germany where the Roman Empire and the Catholic church were represented. Luther knew that his life was in danger if he went to the meeting, even though he was granted safe passage to the meeting.

At the meeting, Luther thought he would get a chance to state his case for what he was teaching. However, he wasn’t allowed to speak freely but was told to answer two simple questions. They had copies of Luther’s writing there and asked him, first: Are these you writings? The answer to question number one was simple. They were his. It was the second question which raised the difficulty. He was asked: Do you recant? In other words, do you take them back?

Knowing the weight the answer to this question carried, Luther asked for time to think about it. He was granted one night. Luther knew that standing by his teachings would cause certain trouble to him. He knew his life would be in danger. After a night spent in prayer, Luther answered that he would not take back his writings. He would not recant. He stood by the truth of God’s Word.

As a result, he was declared a heretic and an outlaw of the state. As such, he could be captured and killed. As he left Worms, it appeared that this might be taking place. Luther was captured. But his capture was orchestrated by friends. Elector Fredrick ensured that he was safely hidden away from his enemies. Luther was taken to the Wartburg Castle.

Throughout this experience, Luther could rightfully proclaim. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God. It makes good sense that Luther would write the hymn by that title!

What lies ahead for you? Will your physical safety be challenged? In the Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus warns that there will be opposition by the government and within the church. Opposition that leads to being arrested and beaten.

So what’s ahead for you? Are any of those things ahead? One thing is certain. There will be and there is opposition to the Gospel. There always has been and there always will be this side of heaven. Whatever the opposition, Jesus encourages us to speak up.

Last week we concentrated on the fact that we are to take the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Pastor Pope focused on personal evangelism. Spreading the Gospel through marriage. Through family. Just as Andrew told his brother Peter about Jesus, so we are to pass the truths on to those who are closest to us and then work our way out from there.

As we go out with the truth, there will be challenges to our faith. People will question what we believe. Some will simply shrug their shoulders as if what we’re saying is going in one ear and out the other. Some will even oppose it.

In the face of all this, how do we muster up the boldness to speak up? Here it is: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

Even when we aren’t necessarily at a point where we are proactively trying to share our faith, our faith can still be under attack. The college professor who laughs at people for believing there is a God can be a daunting prospect. The boss who is outspoken about you working on Sundays and perhaps Monday evening too is a challenge to reason with. Even the friends who are accepting of the steadily declining morality of the day may be difficult to talk to. There might even be a stranger who attacks your faith out of the blue. Several years ago, I was visiting a member at First Evan at the nursing home. As I made my way to her room, I met a lady in the hallway who asked me who I was. After identifying myself as the pastor at First Evan, she proceeded to attack our teaching on Baptism. “Oh, you Lutherans are the ones who teach that Baptism is a work.” I was baffled by this accusation, because nothing could be further from the truth. Baptism is an act of God’s grace, and I patiently tried to explain this to this woman unsuccessfully.

But in all of these things we need to stand ready to stand for what we believe. To let people know where our priorities are. Whether it’s a professor, a boss, a friend, or even a stranger it isn’t easy. How will we manage? We will manage by remembering: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

And we will manage with the confidence that our LORD gives us. Let’s not miss a beautiful picture that we have here for our comfort: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”

As believers, you and I are the city of God. It is among us where our God lives. And what makes us happy is the river that flows through us. God’s Word is that river. The happiness that God’s Word brings us is the message that God is powerful to save us. That in spite of our sin and weakness, he has orchestrated a plan to overcome that. His plan includes the need for a Savior who came in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It was his perfect life and his perfect death that overcame our sin and enables us to look perfect in God’s sight.

As we take refuge in the LORD Almighty, we have the reassurance of this message of salvation. That nothing can truly harm us. Not natural disasters. Not wars. Not persecution. Not even death. Our place in God’s eternity is secure.

The problem with fortresses in our world is that they are not impenetrable. They may appear to be that way, but there is always a weakness that the enemy can expose. But, there is one fortress that is impenetrable. A mighty fortress is our God. It is there we find security unlike anything the world can offer. Because of that, it is there alone we find perfect peace. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Amen.

Marriage as God Intended It! Pastor John Roekle

October 7, 2018 [Pentecost 20] Genesis 2:18-24 J.D.Roekle

18The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.”

24For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Marriage as God Intended It!

Dear Friends in Christ,

New York Times columnist David Brooks believes that there are three different lenses through which to think about marriage decisions—the psychological, the romantic, and the moral lens. Most of the popular advice books adopt a psychological lens. These books start with the premise that getting married is a daunting prospect. So psychologists urge us to pay attention to traits like "agreeableness," social harmony, empathy, and niceness.

The second lens is the romantic lens. This is the dominant lens in movie and song. More than people in many other countries, Americans want to marry the person they are passionately in love with. But in the book "The Good Marriage," the authors concluded that only 15 percent of couples maintain these kinds of lifelong romantic marriages.

The third lens is the moral lens. In this lens a marriage exists to serve some higher purpose. Brooks points to Tim Keller's book "The Meaning of Marriage," where Keller argues that marriage introduces you to yourself; you realize you're not as noble and easy to live with as you thought when alone. Brooks writes:

In a good marriage you identify your own selfishness and see it as the fundamental problem. You treat it more seriously than your spouse's selfishness. The everyday tasks of marriage are opportunities to cultivate a more selfless love. Everyday there's a chance to inspire and encourage your partner to become his or her best self. In this lens, marriage isn't about two individuals trying to satisfy their own needs; it's a partnership of mutual self-giving for the purpose of moral growth and to make their corner of the world a little better.”

The author then concludes that the quality of the average marriage is in decline, because the moral lens is much less common that the psychological lens and romantic lens.

He’s on to something. The way we look at marriage matters. We want to look at it through what he terms the moral lens, because it is through this lens that we also connect it with God. And we should listen to God when we talk and think about marriage, since God designed it. Today, we take a look at marriage as God intended it to be.

It might seem obvious to us that God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman. It isn’t obvious to the world around us though. About a year ago, it was in the news that an Italian woman decided to get married…to herself. She actually had a ceremony with bridesmaids, 70 guests and a 3-layer wedding cake. "I firmly believe that each of us must first of all love ourselves," the Italian woman said. "You can have a fairytale even without the prince." There’s actually a term that has been coined which describes this self-marriage. It is being called “sologamy.”

This isn’t really marriage according to God’s definition, is it? For it to even be called ‘marriage’ is missing the point of marriage. Marriage is about companionship. God made that point very clear to Adam after he created him. How God went about this is fascinating. He gave Adam a responsibility. He was to name the animals. What a cool task for Adam. But it wasn’t just for the sake of Adam knowing what to call each creature; this exercise served an even greater purpose.

Sit with Adam and think about what must have been going through his mind and all these various wonders of God’s creation walked in front of him. None of these creatures really look like me. None of them can communicate like me. None of them have my ability to reason. And not only that, while each of these creatures are different from each other, there are more than one of the same creature. But there’s no one like me!

Through this process, God prepared Adam not only to welcome another human being into the world, but also that God would call his “suitable helper.” Companionship is a great blessing of marriage. To be able to share the ups and downs with someone is a great blessing. In order to make this companionship to work, it takes a lot of effort on the part of both spouses. And when a relationship goes through a rocky period, it is easy to point your finger at your spouse as being the fault, but it is also wise to see where the other three fingers are pointing…at yourself. I need to constantly examine myself. Am I living up to my God-given role in this marriage? That’s question married couples should be asking themselves regularly.

And let’s keep in mind the kind of relationship we have committed to as we seek to faithfully carry out the roles of husbands and wives. This is to be a loving relationship. But let’s not misunderstand what we mean when we are talking about love.

While we certainly have romantic feelings toward our spouse, especially when we are first married, the kind of love God’s wants us to express in marriage goes way beyond emotions. We are not to be governed simply by what we feel. The kind of love that God wants to rule our marriage is the kind of love that Jesus modeled for you and me as he went to the cross. Think about that love. Christ Jesus sacrificed so much for you! He left behind his divine power. He left behind the majesty of heaven. And he gave up his very life for you! What commitment on the part of Jesus!

We are to model that kind of loving commitment in marriage. But what is it that often breaks that loving commitment? Isn’t it that spouses have unrealistic expectations of each other? A philosopher one said that people are deluded by the Romantic view of marriage – “that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy every yearning.” When the perfect being doesn’t meet all our needs we think we’ve married the wrong person, and that “we end up lonely and convinced that our [marriage], with its imperfections, is not ‘normal.’” This philosopher instead says that we should look at marriage this way... “[with the] awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden, and disappoint us—and we will (without any malice) do the same to them … The failure of [our spouse] to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

The man sounds like a Christian, doesn’t he? He’s actually an atheist, but he’s right! Marriage is really about two imperfect human beings coming together as one. Couples are to commit to one another with realistic expectations. A husband is married to a sinner, and so is his wife. That leads us to realize a very important aspect in marriage: forgiveness. When your spouse does something wrong or something that angers you, how easy is it to hang on to that, and to let it fester. Forgive and leave it behind. Oh yes, when you are in an argument, how easy it is to dredge up the past. But resist it! It doesn’t serve any useful purpose. In fact, it will only harm your relationship.

This is very important as you consider how long the Lord wants this relationship to last. The marriage vows state it: “…as long as we both shall live.” The permanency of marriage is hinted at in the Lord’s definition of marriage in the last very of our text: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The marriage relationship isn’t supposed to be a temporary move from mom and dad’s house. The fact that each spouse is leaving their former family speaks to the permanency of marriage. In fact, when Jesus talked about this verse in today’s Gospel lesson, he added: “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.

No one is to separate it! That includes the husband and wife. Spouses are to go into marriage with the full expectation that they are in this arrangement for life. When we listen to the world’s perspective on marriage, we are often encouraged by ‘experts’ to get out of the marriage. And maybe sometimes the problem is that one or both spouses never really ‘leave’ mom and dad’s house. They are more comfortable with talking with others than working things out with their spouse. That’s part of the hard work needed in couples to forge a new home and life together.

There’s something that each of us can do concerning this subject of marriage. If you are married, get to work! You made a commitment, work on it! Whether married or not, all of us can pray. Pray for your own marriage. Pray for the marriages of others. We can also encourage others in their marriage. Encourage each other to seek God’s will for their marriage. And when you see trouble in marriage that is beyond the couple’s ability to solve, encourage them to get help. After all, marriage is not only the cornerstone for our society, but also for the church. Keep your focus on marriage as God intended it to be! Amen.

He Has Done Everything Well Pastor John Roekle

September 6, 2018 [Pentecost 16] Mark 7:31-37 J.D.Roekle

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

“He Has Done Everything Well”

Dear Friends in Christ,

He has done everything well. Those were words spoken by people who had just witnessed a miracle. Jesus restored a man’s hearing and ability to speak. They were excited! They were excited because they were amazed at what they witnessed. In fact, they were so excited that when Jesus told them not to tell anyone about it, they couldn’t help themselves and kept talking. You can see why they were excited, can’t you? It’s the kind of excitement you have when someone is cured of cancer.

But what do you think these people were thinking before the miracle and before Jesus came by? And think about the deaf and mute man himself. What do you think he thought about God as he dealt with his handicap? Do you think any of them questioned God about it?

What are you going through? What is it that you are dealing with? Perhaps it is the effects that old age brings on. Maybe you’re dealing with a health problem that has you adding another pill to your daily routine. It could be that you are dealing with the health of a sick child. Maybe someone you know and care about is addicted to alcohol or opioids.

The various suffering that we go through in life might get us to doubt God’s good intentions, and perhaps God’s ability to help us. Does God really do everything well?

When the ones who witnessed the miracle in our text spoke these words, he has done everything well, they emphasized the word ‘well.’ In fact, in the original language, they put the word first in order to give it prominence. “Well has he done everything.” They were convinced that whatever Jesus does, he does them well.

Think about what they seem to be echoing. They seem to be going all the way back to Moses words in Genesis as he records what was said about creation. Genesis 1:31. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” It was very good. Now, remember that this is what was said after the 6th and last day of creation. Six times in the verses before this, Genesis uses just the word “good” to describe what he had created that day. The creation of light was good. The creation dry land and the seas was good. The creation of vegetation was good. The creation of sun, moon and stars that govern day and night and time was good. The creation of birds and the fish was good. The creation of land animals was good.

Now why use good all this time and then very good at the end? Well one thing we need to remember that God has a different definition of ‘good’ than we do. How was the sermon today? Good, but it could have been a little shorter. How was your food? Good, but it was a little bland. When God uses the word ‘good’ it means that it was just the way he intended it to be. It is means that it was perfect. The light was perfect. The vegetation was perfect. The animals were perfect. The reason he says very good at the end is because now everything was complete.

Remember what God’s crowning act of creation was. It was the creation of Adam and Eve. Once that was done, God was finished creating. And all was perfect, including mankind. Adam and Eve could well have said God has done everything well!

When you see a sunrise or sunset, or when you hike in a state or national park, or when you witness the birth of a child, you also could chime in and say God has done everything well! At the same time, what we see today isn’t exactly the same as what Adam and Eve first saw. Weeds infest the ground. Disease affects plants, animals and people alike. Things are far from perfect. Does God really do all things well?

As Jesus was restoring the deaf man’s hearing, take note of what he did. He looked up to heaven and sighed deeply. What was this deep sigh all about? When Jesus was at the grave of his friend Lazarus and saw Lazarus’ sister Mary and others weeping, we are told that Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

Jesus knows that things are not the way in which were created. There are many things that make us sad and that trouble us. But those things that make us sad and trouble us do not come as a result of what God has done. He certainly does everything well. Instead, they come as a result of the fall into sin through Adam and Eve. It was their sin which brought deafness, decay and death into the world. As Jesus sighs, he is agonizing over the results of the fall which he sees before his very eyes in the face of this man who can’t hear nor speak. He is moved by the reality of what is, rather than what might have been.

What might have been was perfection always. No sin means no pain, sadness or death. But Adam’s sin and consequently our sin has made God’s creation not very good. The fact that the world is not very good today is not God’s fault, but ours.

When you and I sigh, it might often mean that we’re sad or tired and can do little or nothing about whatever is making us sad. Not so with Jesus. Even though he sighs about the present state of the world and people, he goes to work and does something about it.

Here we see him act and speak very simply. He put his fingers in the man’s ears, touched his tongue with his spit, and said simply “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!” That’s all it took. The man was restored. He was able to hear and speak. It was a miracle!

And this miracle, along with all the other miracles Jesus performed, was meant to be a restoration of the way things were supposed to be from the beginning. Each miracle was meant to communicate that Jesus had come for the sake of restoring all people, because God indeed does everything well.

When people are going through difficulties, we can empathize with them. However, much of the time we are powerless to help them. In Jesus’ deep sigh, we see him empathizing with our weaknesses. Jesus gets it. He knows the pain and hurt you experience. He’s been there. But he doesn’t just empathize, he takes our place.

This was all a part of God’s plan. God’s original plan was to create the world in perfection so that it remains in a perfect state forever. But since that plan was ruined, God went on to “plan B”. His plan to restore us.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be deaf. That’s often crossed my mind since I have several deaf relatives. What would it be like to walk in their shoes? On the other hand, I don’t have to wonder what it is like to be spiritually handicapped. That happens to me by nature because I’m born in sin. And it happens to you too.

But the Savior restores you and me. When Jesus had healed the deaf man, he told those who witnessed it not to tell anyone about it. Why would he do that? Because he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea as to why he was there. He was not doing miracles for show or to gain fame. Instead, he did them in order to prove that he had the ability to restore people through his cross.

Jesus would take all the sins that handicap us away by carrying them with him to his death and grave. The curse of sin has been broken. The resurrected Christ is evidence of it! We are indeed restored. We are able to see God’s plan, to hear his precious promises, and to speak his praises.

But even though we are restored, we still live in the reality of an imperfect world. And that leads us once again to the question we began with: Does God really do everything well?

While God’s plan to save us from an eternity away from him has been completed, his restoration plan isn’t yet complete. You see, God isn’t about ‘bandaid’ solutions. He’s into getting to the root of the problem and fixing it for good. That means that a final restoration is coming. It is ahead of us in the glories of heaven where there will be no question as to God’s ability to do everything well. It is there that perfection will be restored. Where all evil will be shut out. And where Jesus our Savior himself will reside with us. In the meantime, as we continue to walk on this side of glory, we can live in confidence knowing that God indeed does everything well. Amen.